More about Student Choice/Freedom

Sam Tanner writes,

High school students are not used to freedom in academic work.

I agree, and am pleased that he has just done the assignment he knows pushes them. They are in charge of demonstrating their mastery, in whatever way works best for them.

Saw a blog post today with a similar message, “Demonstrating learning doesn’t have to look the same for every student” by Amber Teamann. She talks more about elementary students, but the theory is the same.

In our particular situation, the vast majority of assignments at my daughter’s high school involve demonstrating her mastery of the subject through a prescribed, teacher led task. At least in her experience, it’s been a rare instance when she could do this in whatever way she wanted. In most cases, Mr. Tanner’s class being the exception, she’s struggled with this – as have her peers. They have been so trained to do what they were told that they cannot think for themselves.

In her particular situation, the way she’s being asked to demonstrate mastery is through word-based tests. This is not her strength, and she has not always done “well” (when measured by grades.) This can lead to a learned helplessness, so eventually the student stops trying. Learning becomes all about the grades and performance on tests, not about learning and analyzing the material.

Yet, when she found the confidence (in Mr. Tanner’s English classes) to explore and explain her mastery as she wished, she created elaborate projects that accomplished the goal: show what she learned. She integrated an entire trimester’s worth of learning into one art project.

This is life, people. There isn’t a teacher always telling us what to produce. Yes, certain jobs require this, but for the most part, we choose the jobs that fit us. We develop solutions to problems. We communicate to others — and we often choose to do this in a way that suits our personality and strengths. Why aren’t students encouraged to do this, too?

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